High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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Cholesterol is essential for health, and is naturally synthesised in the liver. It plays a role in the structure of cell membranes, making steroid hormones and reproductive hormones, as well as producing vitamin D and more. However, you also add cholesterol to your body through the food that you eat. Once you’ve got high cholesterol, changing your diet and lifestyle habits may help to reduce it or you may need medication. Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out which supplements could lower a raised cholesterol level.
Cholesterol is continuously produced in your liver, but you increase your cholesterol level by eating a diet high in saturated fat and full of things like eggs, shellfish, meat, and dairy products.
Dr Lee pointed out: “In the Western world, our diet tends to have too much rather than too little cholesterol.”
Although a raised cholesterol is often due to dietary factors, there are other causes such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), obesity, high alcohol intake, Cushing’s syndrome, Anorexia nervosa, Nephrotic syndrome, Chronic kidney disease, Obstructive jaundice, Premature menopause – Premature Ovarian Failure (POF).
Cholesterol levels can also be exacerbated by smoking and too much salt in the diet
Other factors such as older age, being from a South Asian, African, or African-Caribbean background, and being Menopausal can also make you more likely to have high cholesterol, Dr Lee noted.
Having a high cholesterol level is dangerous for your health, but not too difficult to fix.
Raised cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes).
Raised blood pressure is another risk factor, and in fact, the two are often found together, although this is not always the case.
The doctor explained: “When cholesterol levels are too high, fatty plaques – known as atherosclerosis – are deposited in the artery walls.
“As a result, the artery wall becomes stiffer and less able to cope with the pressure of the blood flowing through them.
“This means that when cholesterol is raised, blood pressure is often raised too.
“High blood pressure is also more likely to cause damage to your arterial walls, causing small micro-tears.
“Atherosclerotic deposits then build up in these damaged sites, weakening the arterial wall.
“If the wall is damaged, the plaques can rupture, or the arterial wall can rupture, causing a major event such as a heart attack, a stroke, or a ruptured aneurysm.
“Even mildly elevated cholesterol can cause raised blood pressure.”
The first step to reducing high cholesterol is normally a discussion with your GP about reducing the cholesterol in your diet and making lifestyle changes to support the aim.
Reducing cholesterol with statins also helps to lower blood pressure.
The most sensible thing to do is to lower your intake of saturated fat (which is found in full-fat dairy products, fatty meat, pastries, pies, biscuits, cakes and so on) and opt for healthier fats such as those found in olive oil, avocado, oily fish and nuts.
Make sure you’re reading food labels and avoiding food with red labels, which are high in saturated fats.
Eat more fibre and plant stanols and sterols, and avoid processed foods that are high in fat or sugar.
However, Dr Lee said: “Your GP will arrange to recheck your cholesterol periodically. If the cholesterol level has not improved, you may be offered medication, such as statins.”
On top of changing your diet and habits, you can start taking supplements to improve your lipid profile and reduce your cholesterol.
Dr Lee recommends the following six supplements:
- Fish oil – may reduce triglycerides
- Flaxseed – may lower LDL cholesterol
- Garlic – may reduce total cholesterol but studies are conflicting
- Green tea – may lower LDL cholesterol
- Niacin – may lower LDL and increased HDL cholesterol
- Plant sterols – may lower LDL cholesterol
When should you consider medication?
A raised cholesterol reading should not be treated without consideration of the other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Dr Lee said: “Those at low risk can work on improving diet and lifestyle measures and be monitored rather than going straight onto medical treatment.
“Those at high risk can be put straight onto a statin, although they still need to attend to diet and lifestyle measures.”
Statins are thought to reduce the risk of a major cardiovascular event by 20 to 30 per cent, have been extensively researched and are thought to be generally safe in clinical practice.
However, if you can’t tolerate statins you may be offered alternative drug treatments such as Ezetimibe, Fibrates, Bile acid sequestrants, or PCSK9 inhibitors.
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